Introduction to orienteering
Fitness benefits of orienteering
Here’s our introduction to the joys of active orienteering. Orienteering is a great sport for getting your body fit and healthy through enjoyable and social exercise. As well as stretching your map reading mental powers, orienteering offers a great workout for the legs, encompassing a fair amount of running.
Orienteering is a race competed by individuals over rugged terrain to find a number of checkpoints, in a given order, using a map and compass (and your wits!). In orienteering there is no set route that competitors must follow, instead, it is up to each individual competitor to choose their own route between checkpoints.
Orienteering equally combines both physical and mental abilities and competitors will have to make many decisions about which route to take to the next checkpoint based on the terrain, their own fitness and navigational ability. Orienteering events range from entry-level ‘sprint’ events to mountain marathons taking place over long distances and mountainous terrain during which competitors must carry sufficient food, water and camping equipment.
Orienteering began as a series of military exercises by the Swedish army during the 1890s and due to the efforts of a Major Ernst Killander to make the sport more ‘mainstream’ the modern sport of orienteering was born.
Throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s the sport increased in popularity until today over 60 countries actively participate in the sport overseen by the International Orienteering Federation.
What’s the buzz about orienteering?
There are many buzzes to orienteering but one of them is the sheer enjoyment in putting your physical and mental abilities to the test, as well as watching them improve as you compete more regularly. Unlike cross-country or road running races, orienteering events are set within a defined area but there is no set route that a competitor must follow. This adds to the kick of orienteering as the route planning and decision making is down to you. No two competitors will follow the same route to complete a race.
Race organisers are cunning in their placement of checkpoints, putting you to the test! Sometimes the shortest route to the next checkpoint will be over hilly ground, meaning slow progress will be made, so will you decide to take the longer, flatter but maybe faster alternative route … it’s up to you! Each new race introduces the racer to new terrain and new challenges making orienteering a dynamic and highly enjoyable sport.
Finally, competitors unable to succeed in a purely physical event such as cross-country running, can equal or even beat physically stronger athletes though the use of their navigation skills, race planning and decision making. This is also the case in adventure racing.
Who can do orienteering?
Orienteering is a sport open to people of all ages and abilities. Events will often incorporate different courses for competitors based on their age, physical ability and experience.
Just like adventure racing, urban orienteering events have now evolved to make the sport accessible to more people.
What is orienteering like?
Ever been lost in your car, trying to keep one eye on the map and the other on the road? Now imagine that you are navigating on foot over unfamiliar, hilly and wooded terrain, maybe at night, against the clock and other competitors … welcome to orienteering!
Orienteering races will be filled with ‘highs and lows.’ At times you will be cruising along and realize how much your physical, mental and navigational abilities have improved since you took up the sport … at other times you come to a screeching halt in a swamp leaving you lost and frustrated, but you must learn to deal with these situations and get quickly back on track.
You will always walk away from a race learning from any mistakes and being better prepared for your next event but the feeling of satisfaction in achieving what seemed almost impossible to you a few months ago is extremely rewarding!
Are there any barriers to orienteering entry in terms of age or fitness?
Orienteering is one of the very few sports truly open to competitors of all ages and abilities. Events are organised for entrants as young as 8 whilst the International Orienteering Federation’s youngest championship category is for 10-year-olds, and they have had competitors over 85 years-old!
Some events are open to disabled competitors through trail orienteering accessible to wheelchairs.
Do you have to do a course or train before getting out there and orienteering?
One of the great things about orienteering is that it is a sport that welcomes people of all ages and abilities so you don’t have to do a course or train in order to give it a go … just turn up and get out there!
Often the best way to learn is by simply having a go, learning by trial and error and taking away what you learn from an event to improve on your next performance.
Of course like anything else in life ‘the more you put into it the more you will get out’ so a little prior fitness and navigation training will go a long way to helping you enjoy your first orienteering experiences.